Since the economic downturn of 2008, the general population has been antsy about the performance of the economy and desperately in search of signs of growth and renewal. Those who provide the information that can either assure the public or cause further panic about the state of our country’s financial health are called economists.
Economists are skilled in the areas of production and distribution of resources, goods and services. They analyze data, research trends and evaluate economic issues that affect the financial health of business and industry.

They can work in a number of fields, including education, healthcare and for government entities. Of the 16,900 economists actively working in 2012, 45 percent of them worked for the government. The next largest sector of employment for economists was in management, scientific and technical consulting services.

Education Requirements

Associate degree programs in economics take two years to complete and are offered by community colleges and technical institutes.  Associate degree programs provide the basics of economics, giving students a glimpse of what working in the industry would entail. Common coursework includes micro and macro economics, the principles of economics and how economic policies affect everyday life.

Candidates who graduate with only an associate degree in economics will find it incredibly difficult to secure employment in the field; therefore, it is recommended that students continue their education following the completion of an associate degree.

A bachelor’s degree in economics takes four years to complete and is the gold standard for working in the field of economics. Basic coursework includes knowledge of math models and how to apply statistical techniques, the affects of financial incentives on human behavior, how the stock market and economy work, how to conduct financial and market research and concrete thinking skills. Candidates who possess an undergraduate degree in economics are qualified to work in a variety of entry-level jobs, including financial examiner, financial adviser and financial analyst.

A graduate or master’s degree in economics will allow candidates to secure higher-paying positions, including those with government agencies. Those who wish to teach economics at a college or university most likely will be required to possess a doctorate degree in economics.

A variety of programs are available – both online and in traditional classroom settings – for economics degrees. Regardless of the level of degree being pursued, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities recommends selecting a program that has been accredited through its agency. The AASCU has some of the most stringent requirements for accreditation of any accrediting agency in the United States.

Future Outlook

Job growth for economists is directly tied to the current state of the economy. According to figures provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for economists will grow by 6 percent between now and 2020, which is slower than the average growth experienced for all other occupations.

While economics jobs with the federal government are anticipated to show the slowest rate of growth, private sector jobs within the industry are expected to remain strong.

The average annual salary for economists, as of May 2012, was $91,860.

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